Review: “Death Becomes Her” (1992)

Death Becomes Goldie, Bruce and Meryl

YOU SAID I WAS CHEAP!!!!##$!$@#$!$!!”

From director Robert Zemeckis (yes, Back to the Future and Polar Express) and screenwriters David Koepp and Martin Donovan (1988’s brilliant gay thriller Apartment Zero with Colin Firth) comes one of the Nineties’ most outrageous features… And oh, my God, Death Becomes Her does not disappoint.

This heaven-sent celluloid is a suspenseful, magical, fantasy dish. Above all, it’s an outrageous comedy: a satire of glamour, glitz, and how far wealthy women will go to retain their beauty and maintain the adoration of those who fawn over them.

Now, I’m a self-admitted Meryl Streep fanatic (how original, right?) – having caught everything of hers from Postcards from the Edge to A Series of Unfortunate Events (I would go so far as to catch a sexually-transmitted disease from Meryl, if she’d ever be willing). So, once upon a time, when I heard Meryl was the star of this campy, screwball showbiz comedy of catty-diva proportions, I virtually ate myself alive.

Luscious.

Ms. Streep is flawless and hysterical as Madeleine Ashton, a once-glamorous A-List stage and screen star who has passed the accepted age of consent for the public eye (her actual age is blurry, but we’ll place her in her early fifties). Hitting rock bottom, she seeks the help of a beholder of the potion of eternal youth, goddess Lisel Von Rhuman, played by Isabella Rossellini in absolutely one of the most scene-chewing supporting female performances in the horror-comedy vault.

Alongside Streep and Rossellini, Goldie Hawn lends some over-the-top fun as Helen Sharp, Madeleine’s archrival and best frenemy, and Bruce Willis is Helen’s middling plastic surgery king husband Ernest, who eventually devolves into a stock mad scientist character driven insane by the self-obsessed competition between his wife and her famous rival. Hawn and Willis are nothing special, even a little weary here and there, but they fit the movie’s bizarre, chock-full-of-surprises mood in which nothing is as it seems (thanks to Zemeckis’s visual creativity and atmosphere).

A little club soda will get that out!

Now, when I say these women will go as far as they can go to stay gorgeous, I’m not just talking out of my ass – these girls go fucking far, and it is not pretty (a.k.a. it’s wonderful). It should be noted that Death Becomes Her won a 1993 Academy Award for, get this, Best Visual Effects, and it’s seriously deserved…

There are moments in this movie that make it unlike anything you’ve ever seen – Meryl Streep is pushed down a flight of stairs, only to recite the next scene’s deadpan monologue undead, her neck broken and twisted one-eighty degrees around like the demonized Linda Blair; Goldie Hawn gets a shotgun blast through the stomach and stands up moments later, furious not about her destroyed intestines but about this horribly large hole in her dress. In one expertly played sequence, the women battle, their bodies becoming grotesquely mangled (with some wonderful early nineties CGI) as they fight about society. It’s beautiful.

Death Becomes Her is so focused on the hilarity of its premise, not much attention is paid to structure or story. It’s total gory laughs, a bubbly tease of the world in which its two lead actresses and tired male lead actor ironically inhabit, both then and now, almost twenty years later. Come for the Meryl and the comedy of horror; stay for Rossellini, the magic, the special effects… and the Meryl.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

Death Becomes Her is rated PG-13 for hulking eye-candy bodyguards, a musical number, Goldie Hawn in a gelatinous fat suit, and decomposing faces. It also appeared on our list of the greatest dance numbers in horror.


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About Ross

Ross studied film at Emerson while working for indie producers, and he critiques shit from a queer POV here and @GingerBredhaus. He also produced 2015 gay horror slasher comedy YOU'RE KILLING ME and creates immersive theater in NYC.